My post on normalising oppression through language originally highlighted four words. Here are two bits I took out.
When you use “crazy” to mean intense or excitable or strange, you are hurting people. People with mental illnesses suffer because of your language. There’s a huge stigma surrounding mental illness, which just compounds the issue. You are to blame for your contribution.
I’m working on not using “crazy” and its cousin “mad” inappropriately. By which I mean I’m making a concerted effort and that when I mess up, I work harder.
Believe me when I tell you that when I took those sections out it wasn’t to make myself look better – I mean, of course you don’t think that, I’m sharing this now. The reason I took it out was because I wasn’t sure that I was advocating for people with mental illnesses so much as offering my own perceptions, which would have been inappropriate for that post. The crux of the issue is this: I know that “crazy” is considered offensive by people with mental illnesses where it’s applied to them. But I hadn’t heard complaints about it being used elsewhere.
Is the use of “crazy” and “mad” appropriate in the following sentences?
‘When she discovered that the jam was gone, she went crazy.’
‘She must be mad to like those toe sock things.’
‘That advertisment is maddening.’
‘I had a crazy time getting here in the traffic.’
For the first and second, I say no, because it’s misappropriating an experience. She didn’t really develop a mental illness because the jam was gone, it’s being used as an expression. And it’s being used improperly as crazy is not a term to be applied to mentally ill people. Particularly with regard to the second, the word is being used to denote extreme negativity. (I have nothing against toe socks, it was just the first slightly different thing that someone might dislike that jumped to mind!) Of course, I’m not an authority on this, not having a mental illness. The third and fourth sentences raise question marks for me. No one and no one’s illness is being overtly denigrated as best I can tell. But loaded words are still being used.
Is it the evolution of language? Well, “gay” has evolved from happy, but we can all agree that the argument that it’s evolved to mean “stupid” is not the case and offensive. Is it metaphor? I don’t know. I don’t know if that would be appropriate. Is it simply a kind of language integration I don’t understand? Possibly. I’ve made it clear that I’m not entirely sure how these words function.
Opening it up, something similar applies to verbs of perception. How must people who are blind or who have vision impairment experience the use of “hear” and “listen”? How must people who are deaf or who have hearing impairment experience the use of “see” and “look”? Throughout this post, there are movement and communications metaphors: speak and encounter and struggle. If language is predicated on how we experience the world, what does this mean for people with disabilities? Do I change my language, change it in some situations, or continue on describing my experience using the tools life has granted me?
It’s all around us, woven through our conversation. It’s in our slang and in our formal language, it’s not just in English, it’s well and truly established.
‘Listen to your heart.’
‘You need to have a good long look at yourself.’
‘Seeing as we’re getting along so well…’
I can’t speak – there it is again, what should I use instead? – for people whose experiences are not my own. I can’t make definitive decisions on this. I can only do the best I can with the information I have and adapt when I’ve given more.
There’s also something to be said about the nature of disability and how many people with mental illnesses, hearing impairment and vision impairment experience their conditions, as disability, sometimes disability or no. That’s something for another post.
I’ve been trying to monitor the use of these coded words in my language (and, to a lesser extent, the language of those around me and in the media) and I’ve discovered that they are everywhere. If they are as problematic as this post suggests they might be, society has a huge communication problem. I like to consider myself someone who makes a concerted effort to use language respectfully with others and I’m not encountering (changed that from hearing! It’s everywhere) much protest from marginalised groups.
I’ve struggled a bit to find information on this subject. I’ve encountered the usage of “listen” and “hear” by people with hearing difficulties and that of “see” and “look” by people with sight impairment. And I haven’t found anything on the use of “crazy,” “mad” and the like. But this post is aimed at outsiders using respectful language and I’m doing my best as an outsider here, on this blog which tries to be inclusive.
When is it appropriate to appropriate these terms, if ever? Is this a situation like the male gendering of humanity? Just like man on the moon, mankind, ‘he’ as default? Or is this something that’s cool with the marginalised people in question? I don’t know, but I’ll continue to try to negotiate language respectfully. And I’ll always defer to the groups in question on the use of their own language.